ANN ARBOR - Memories of that humiliating day of three years ago when Appalachian State did the unthinkable at Michigan Stadium are surely to resurface this week as the Wolverines prepare to play another smaller-division opponent.
However the more timely discussion revolves around this season and how Football Championship Subdivision teams are routinely beating some of the biggest names in college football.
Massachusetts will attempt to become the sixth small school to knock off one of the big boys when it travels to play the 20th-ranked Wolverines on Saturday.
"It's not going to take much from me [to motivate the team]," UMass coach Kevin Morris said Saturday after his team thumped Holy Cross, 31-7. "They're well aware of the opportunity."
On Saturday, Akron, Minnesota, and No. 13 Virginia Tech were all upset at home by FCS schools. A week earlier it was Kansas and
Mississippi falling in games they figured to be guaranteed wins when they scheduled them.
Although no one is predicting a stunner at the Big House, Massachusetts is a formidable FCS team, certainly superior to the overmatched Delaware State squad that UM destroyed 63-6 last fall. The unbeaten Minutemen are ranked No. 18 in the FCS, and its two wins - home games against Holy Cross and No. 4 William & Mary - are over teams that qualified for last year's 16-team postseason playoff.
Although just 5-6 last year, UMass has been strong in recent years, recording an overall record of 76-44 in the 2000s and winning the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2003 and 2006. It advanced to the I-AA title game in 2006, falling to Appalachian State. Of course Appalachian State's next game, the 2007 season opener, may have been the biggest college football upset ever.
"There's no such thing as a powder puff game," UM defensive lineman Greg Banks said. "We saw that with App State. We underestimated them, and that will never happen again with any opponent we have."
UM coach Rich Rodriguez said this week he will speak of Virginia Tech's loss to James Madison when addressing his team. That result was particularly surprising because nine days earlier Virginia Tech battled tough in a close loss to national-title contender Boise State.
"There are players everywhere," Rodriguez said. "It's not like you're playing 18 and 19-year-old kids against 14-year olds. It's the same kids, same age, and in some respects, it's different. And the difference is, in the FCS level, the good teams, the top 25, 30 teams, are really, really good, and really competitive."
UMass generally plays one big team each year, and last year's season opener at Kansas State nearly went in the Minutemen's favor. Trailing 21-3 at halftime, they rallied for two second-half touchdowns, the last which came early in the fourth quarter, while shutting out the Wildcats over the final two quarters. In that game, quarterback Kyle Havens made his first career start for UMass. He finished the year with nine touchdowns versus 15 interceptions. Havens has been much better this year, completing 40 of 62 passes for 516 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. His favorite target has been Anthony Nelson, who is averaging 90.5 yards per game.
"We're not playing the New England Patriots," Havens said. "It's another college football team."
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